Tag Archives: Paul

Wright, Paul: In Fresh Perspective (2005)

N. T. Wright, Paul: In Fresh Perspective (2005)

Ch. 1, “Paul’s World, Paul’s Legacy”: Paul lived in four adjoining worlds of thought: he was a Second-Temple Jew, he partook of the Hellenistic philosophical tradition, he was a Roman citizen, and he belonged to the nascent Christian ekklesia. Paul’s controlling narratives were mostly drawn from the Bible and contemporaneous biblical exegesis, especially Second-Temple Jewish (as opposed to pagan philosophical) monotheism.

Ch. 2, “Creation and Covenant”: Wright begins the chapter by outlining the themes of creation and covenant in a few passages from the Hebrew Bible that were central to Paul’s thought, then briefly exegetes Col 1:15–20, 1 Cor 15, and Rom 1-11, showing how the same themes are present in Paul’s thought. For Paul, Wright argues, sin is transgression against the covenant, and Jesus is the person who established the new covenant.

Ch. 3, “Messiah and Apocalyptic”: This chapter unpacks six facets of Paul’s messianism:

  • The Messiah will be a king, not a priest.
  • The Messiah will fight off the forces of paganism.
  • The Messiah will rebuild the Temple.
  • The Messiah will fulfill messianic prophecies.
  • The Messiah will act as God’s representative to Israel and the world.
  • The Messiah will act as Israel’s representative to God.

In addition, Wright argues, Paul sees Jesus’ death and resurrection as the revelation of God’s plan for the world; the Christ-event is thus the key to Paul’s (idiosyncratic) apocalypticism.

Ch. 4, “Gospel and Empire”: Here Wright summarizes the intersections between Roman ideology and Paul’s thought and where Paul, as a Second-Temple Jew, critiqued the Roman imperial ideology. For instance, the Romans deified Iustitia (Latin for “justice”), and Paul emphasizes dikaiosyne (Greek for “justice” and “righteousness”) in his letters. Augustus was called “Savior” for ending the Roman civil war, and the announcement of the end of the strife was a euangelion (“good news,” “gospel”); for Paul, Jesus is the true ruler of the world, and his gospel is that Jesus has rescued the world from strife with God.

Ch. 5, “Rethinking God”: This chapter, along with the next two, “offer an outline sketch of the shape of Paul’s theology” (83), following the traditional Jewish emphases on monotheism, election, and eschatology. Paul is firmly rooted in Second-Temple Jewish monotheism; however, his monotheism also includes Jesus, whom he equates with God. His monotheism is thus a Christological monotheism. Paul also expands his monotheism to include God’s Spirit, who guides God’s people. This redefined monotheism brought him into conflict with other Jews, but, as a polemic, its main target was pagan practice.

Ch. 6, “Reworking God’s People”: Despite the variety of beliefs among the different Second-Temple Jewish groups, all of them believed that the Jews were God’s chosen people. Paul both reaffirmed and redefined the concept of election—affirming that Israel still has primacy, but arguing that election is on the basis of faith and Jesus’ righteousness, not the possession of the Torah, and thus expanding election’s scope to include Gentile Christians. He maintains that God’s spirit guides the elect. He bases his concept of election on the story he perceives in the Hebrew Bible, namely that God has irrevocably elected Israel, but has expanded Israel’s election to the whole world through Jesus’ death.

Ch. 7, “Reimagining God’s Future”: As with his monotheism and idea of election, Paul reworked standard Second-Temple Jewish eschatology around Jesus, so that Jesus’ death and resurrection were the culmination of God’s plan for the world. They were also Paul’s lens for viewing Israel’s story; by his death and resurrection, Jesus led his people through a new Exodus and a new return from exile. Paul expected the climactic Day of the Lord—at which Jew and Gentile would be judged alike—to come within his lifetime, but did not expect it to mark the end of the world. The outpouring of the gifts of the spirit Spirit was another sign that God had apocalyptically broken into the world.

Ch. 8, “Jesus, Paul and the Task of the Church”: In this chapter, Wright argues that it is a mistake to set Jesus’ and Paul’s messages in opposition to each other, claiming that such a reading is a post-Enlightenment distortion of what Jesus and Paul were trying to do in their own contexts (Jesus preaching in a revolutionary Palestinian environment and Paul preaching in a philosophical Gentile environment). Wright also sketches out Paul’s self-image as an apostle, as recorded in the opening to Romans, namely that he understood his task to be unifying the church in their theology, understanding of election, and eschatology.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Martin, Sex and the Single Savior (2006)

Dale B. Martin, Sex and the Single Savior: Gender and Sexuality in Biblical Interpretation (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2006).

Thesis: This book, as a collection of essays, does not have a thesis as such; however, its overarching theme is “to expose the complications of biblical interpretation in order to shine light on the agency of human interpreters and to insist that the ‘text itself’ does not exercise its own ‘agency’ in its own interpretation” (1), especially in regards to ideas about gender and sexuality.

The following overview is quoted from Robert Paul Seesengood’s review of the book.

Martin opens (‘The Myth of Textual Agency’) by dismantling confidence that we can determine a text’s ‘intended meaning’ via history (and showing that such concerns are very modern). A familiar conversation to many of us, Martin offers a single critique with solid examples accessible to the non-specialist. He continues his methodological discussion in chapter 2, ‘The Rhetoric of Biblical Scholarship: A Primer for Critical Reading of Historical Criticism.’

Chapter 3 ‘ Arsenokoitês and Malakos: Meanings and Consequences’ explores this notorious pair of words found in 1 Cor. Contrary to many suggestions which take both terms as descriptive of male-male sexual engagement (where the former term designates the active partner, the latter the passive), Martin offers a thorough lexical study to conclude that: a. we really have no idea what arsenokoitês actually entailed (though it seems to be some form of – economic – sexual exploitation?). Malakos, would be better rendered ‘effeminate’ or even ‘sissy.’ Martin then demonstrates how ‘historical’ reading and translation of these words is enmeshed in cultural assumptions about ‘normativity.’ The theme of heteronormativity is again taken up in chapter 4, ‘Heterosexism and the Interpretation of Romans 1:18–32.’ Martin, again, opens with a demonstration of how previous modes of reading are inadequate. His particular concern surrounds readings that suggest Paul is arguing humans, universally, have fallen from some pristine state into sin, the ultimate expression of which, is same-sex encounter. Such, Martin argues, is implicitly reinforcing heteronormativity. Martin, instead, takes a rigorous turn back into the text to argue that Paul suggests same-sex desire arises from idolatry (one should realize, as well, that, for Martin, ‘textual foundationalism’ is always couched as an idolatrous move).

In chapter 5, ‘Paul without Passion: On Paul’s Rejection of Desire in Sex and Marriage,’ Martin addresses Paul’s comments in 1 Cor. 7. In sum, Martin argues that Paul (blending some Stoic ideas) is fundamentally arguing for the cessation of desire. Sex, in and of itself (and if properly expressed – i.e. controlled), is relatively innocuous. Desire, however, is the stone in Paul’s shoe. Paul recommends marriage as a means to avoid ‘burning’ with desires. Marriage is intended to quiet sexual desire.

In chapter 6, ‘The Queer History of Galatians 3:28: ‘ No Male and Female’‘ Martin survey’s readings of this famous text. Beginning with Stendhal and expressed mostly fully (perhaps) by Schussler-Fiorenza, one strand of NT scholarship has argued for a Pauline egalitarianism (despite the clearly non-egalitarian thrust of some other key passages in Paul). Conservatives, however, have argued that no egalitarianism exists at all; male and female are equal only ‘in Christ’ (i.e. in terms of their potential to be saved). Radical contemporary feminists have argued this text is not egalitarian, either. Paul is arguing for ‘equality’ only to the extent that women are moved along a gender continuum towards masculinity; they become ‘equal’ only by becoming ‘male.’ Martin presents these readings, then makes a stunning and gorgeous turn of his own. Recognizing the grammar is ‘no…and…,’ Martin, using historical and grammatical analysis that is pristine, argues that Paul’s demands could also be taken as a call to femme up males and destroy masculinity.

The central chapter, carrying the name of the volume (ch. 7: ‘Sex and the Single Savior’) is the only chapter not to treat Paul in any way. Martin explores the possibility of whether or not the historical Jesus could have been married or had sex (of any kind). He notes that we can not conclude any position definitively; indeed, one can, as readily, demonstrate the possibility that Jesus was gay (and seeing the infamous ‘beloved disciple’ of John’s gospel). The point is most surely not that Martin argues that Jesus was gay; his arguments, however, reveal the extreme exegetical gossip that has amassed around Mary and Jesus and to illustrate how little we know (and how little, really, it matters). More, it reveals the dynamics of an implicit heteronormativity in scholarship and Christology. Martin argues scholarly views on the subject say far more about contemporary views of sex, sexuality and culturally described norms of sexual distinction.

In Chapter 8, ‘Familiar Idolatry and the Christian Case Against Marriage,’ Martin flatly denounces modern evangelical fascination with ‘family values’ as idolatry. He demonstrates that Jesus’ and Paul’s ethics of ‘family’ are radically different than what emerges from the modern focus on family. Jesus, Martin clarifies, called for a seamless boundary of believers which was broadly inclusive, not a narcissistic celebration of the nuclear family. In chapter 9, ‘the Hermeneutics of Divorce’ Martin continues this thesis. Surveying the remarks of Jesus and Paul on divorce, Martin concludes that the historical Jesus was radically opposed to divorce and remarriage, absolutely forbidding both. Matthew, however, adds a proviso (‘except in cases of pornea’), which Luke extends further. Paul, addressing the case of a woman divorced by a non-believing husband, allows remarriage (but only ‘in the Lord,’ i.e. to a believer). Martin argues that these various communities were trying to soften Jesus’ harsh standard, a standard which, by not allowing any form of divorce, would discourage or destroy marriage in the first place. Indeed, Martin argues that such a goal was Jesus’ particular intention; he wanted a marriageless community of believers, mutually sharing with one another. Martin, as well, calls for the same, suggesting the church should abandon the ‘marriage business’ because of the way marriage perpetuates divisions.

Chapters 10 and 11, ‘The space of Scripture, the Risk of Faith’ are clearly the capstone for the book and the argument for which Martin has been carefully preparing us. After a survey of Richard Hays’ monograph on Pauline use of scripture (and, in turn, surveying Pauline uses directly as they appear in Galatians and 2 Corinthians), Martin concludes that Paul read scripture not to be ‘formed by’ its contents, but to find confirmation, understanding, and argument for ideas he had already formed. Scripture was not taken as the means of making faith, faith recognizes scripture. Martin appeals for a similar reading approach among modern Christians. He offers a new metaphor for scripture: a sacred space for exploration which prompts, as a museum would, reflection, narrative, and new ideas. Noting, of course, the inherent risk of such an approach – that monstrous inequity and unethical reading could be implicitly ‘verified’ via readings of scripture – Martin never the less accepts the risks as those inherent in ‘faith’ and a hermeneutics of Love.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Engberg-Pederson, Paul and the Stoics (2000)

Troels Engberg-Pederson, Paul and the Stoics (2000)

Thesis: The Stoic worldview (a movement from individual (I), through a higher power (X), to community (S), as represented in the image below) underlies Paul’s anthropology and ethics.

 

Engberg-Pederson’s I-X-S model. (Image credit: vridar.org)

Pederson’s I-X-S model. Image credit: vridar.org

 

Ch. 1, “An Essay in Interpretation”: In this chapter, Engberg-Pederson situates his study among the rest of Pauline scholarship. He explicitly rejects theological readings of Paul. He sees his study as a work of social history, but one that discusses Paul’s ideas, rather than the activities of early Pauline Christians (as pursued, for example, by Wayne Meeks’ The First Urban Christians). He also has the explicit goal of presenting Paul’s anthropological and ethical thought in a manner that is applicable to the present (Western) world.

Ch. 2, “The Model” sets forth the I-X-S model depicted above, which, Engberg-Pederson argues, is a quintessentially Stoic line of thought that underlies all of Paul’s letters. Engberg-Pederson also pre-emptively argues that this model does not “saddle Paul with a form of individualism which either could not be his or is unlikely to have been it, nor does it imply any return to the naive, directly (auto)biographical and psychological readings of an earlier age” (43).

Ch. 3, “The Stoics” traces the I-X-S model through Stoic thought, using as its base book III of Cicero’s De finibus bonorum et malorum, “which is the best systematic statement of Stoic ethics that we have” (46). In Stoic thought, the move from I to X (i.e., individual to Reason) is a change in viewpoint from subjectivity to objectivity, leading one to wisdom. The change from X to S is taking the wisdom one has gained from Reason and using it altruistically.

Chs. 4-5 (“Philippians I: The Problem and Beginning of a Solution” and “Philippians II: The Solution Developed”): Chapter 4 analyzes three of the themes in Philippians (“the call, joy and suffering, and self-sufficiency”) and finds that they “fit completely into an I->X line of the I->X->S model on its Stoic interpretation” (102); that is, because they show how Paul has turned his back on the world (I) and moved on to Christ (X). Engberg-Pederson also discusses how Paul’s use of the I-X-S model is different from the Stoics’, namely how Paul places Christ at the X pole, whereas the Stoics placed Reason there. Chapter 5 argues that Paul acts toward the Philippians in the same way that Stoic teachers acted toward their pupils: he positions himself as the model to follow as they try to live like Christ. When they “acquire the full normative knowledge (at X) that set [Paul] going in his dealings with them . . . they will no longer have a special relationship with him but will be able to practice their new knowledge (as expressed in Paul’s maxim and prefigured for them in the Christ event) in relation to everybody (within the group)” (119; emphasis added)—that is, at the S pole.

Chs. 6-7 (“Galatians I: The Problem and the Beginning of a Solution” and “Galatians II: The Solution Developed”): In these chapters, Engberg-Pederson frames Pauline theology and ethics in terms of the I-X-S model. For Engberg-Pederson, theology reflects the X-I relationship, while ethics comes from the S-S relationship (i.e., relationships among members of the community). Moreover, because theology and ethics are different parts of the same worldview, they are intimately connected—a thought most clearly expressed when Paul bases his ethical arguments to the Galatians in terms of a particular set of beliefs about God, Christ, and the Law. Engberg-Pederson also adds a few layers to his I-X-S model: the A relationship (= X-I) is God’s relationship with humanity, Ba is the human relationship with God (I-X), Bb is human relationships with each other, and C is “actual practice [that] does not stand for any special relationship” (137).

Chs. 8-10 (“Romans I: The Problem,” “Romans II: The Solution,” and “Romans III: The Solution Developed”): These chapters have the same basic argument as chapters 6-7—namely, that proper faith (the I-X relationship) is the basis for right actions (the S-S relationship). Engberg-Pederson sees three basic themes in Romans related to his model: “(a) the theme of total directedness towards God (Ba: I->X), (b) the consequent removal of the I-pole that stands in the way of the proper inter-human relationship (Bb) and the proper practice (C), (c) and the resulting total openness towards others (Bb: S->S)” (199-200; emphasis original).

Ch. 11, the conclusion: Engberg-Pederson summarizes his argument in the form of four theses:

  1. “A historical thesis: that there is a fundamental similarity in the basic model that structures both Stoic ethics and Paul’s comprehensive parenesis in his letters as a whole.”
  2. “An exegetical thesis: that a reading that draws on Stoic ideas helps to solve a number of problems that have traditionally engaged interpreters of Paul’s letters,” like the relationship between “the descriptive and the prescriptive parts” of Paul’s letters.
  3. “A hermeneutical thesis: that a kind of reading that draws on Stoicism to emphasize and develop those ideas of a cognitive type that are in fact there in Paul is positively required for an exegesis of his letters to have fulfilled its task.”
  4. “A theological thesis: that Paul must be read directly, philosophically, even naturalistically as a person who is speaking of the world as it is available to all partners in the dialogue, in exactly the same way as this was done by his fellow Jews (like Philo) and Greeks (like Plato or the Stoics)” (301-304; emphasis original).

For an extensive, critical review of this book, see J. Louis Martyn, “De-apocalypticizing Paul: An Essay Focused on Paul and the Stoics by Troels Engberg-Pederson,” JSNT 24 (2002): 61-102.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament (1997)

Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament (1997)

This book is an introductory textbook on the New Testament, most suitable for a seminary-level introductory course. Since it is an introductory text, the book does not have any real thesis; its goal is to present the material that has already been produced, rather than to argue anything new. It is organized into four parts with two appendices. Part I deals with “Preliminaries for Understanding the New Testament”; Part II is an overview of the Gospels and NT books related to the Gospels (Acts and the Johannine Epistles); Part III covers the Pauline epistles (including the deutero-Paulines); Part IV deals with “the other New Testament writings” (Hebrews, the Petrine Epistles, Jude, and Revelation). Appendix 1 is an overview of historical Jesus research from 1780 to the present; Appendix 2 is a survey of “Jewish and Christian Writings Pertinent to the NT.”

Part I consists of five chapters. Chapter 1 contains a brief description of what the term “New Testament” implies (it implies that the NT literature is the sequel to, and fulfillment of, the literature in the Hebrew Bible), followed by an overview of early Christian book production and dissemination, and the history of the development of the canon.

Chapter 2 deals with “How to Read the New Testament.” The first part of the chapter is a sprint through eleven different ways that scholars have approached the text of the NT, from textual criticism (also the subject of the very brief chapter 3) to historical criticism, to narrative criticism, to advocacy criticism (e.g. Liberationist or Feminist hermeneutics); Brown concludes by emphasizing how the true meaning of the text cannot be derived through just one hermeneutic, but must come from the results of several kinds of hermeneutics operating together. The chapter also discusses issues of biblical inspiration, divine revelation, and deriving meaning from the NT (whether looking for authorial intent, the meaning to the original audience, and/or the meaning within the canon).

Chapters 4 and 5 are useful chapters on the political, social, and ideological environments in which the NT was composed. In terms of politics, Brown covers the period from Alexander the Great on through the Bar Kokhba revolt. For the social environment, he focuses on what life was like for Jews and Christians in pagan cities, Greco-Roman class structure and social hierarchy, and education in the Greco-Roman world. Regarding Jewish religious thought, Brown first discusses the importance of the Maccabean revolt; next, he introduces the Essenes, Sadducees, and—more in depth—the Pharisees, discussing how Jesus related to each of these groups; then, finally, giving brief mention to the Jewish literature composed after the 1st century (namely the Mishnah, Tosefta, Targumim, and Talmudim—sources that, he argues, are problematic when used in the study of the NT, because they were composed later—sometimes much later—than anything in the NT). Next, Brown surveys non-Jewish religious thought (namely, classical myth, emperor worship, mystery cults, and cults deriving from the religions of countries east of Rome), then non-Jewish philosophies (e.g., Cynicism, Epicureanism) and the interesting cases of Philo and of Gnostic thought, which combined Jewish and Hellenistic religio-philosophical categories.

Part II covers the Gospels and related literature, namely Acts and the Johannine Epistles. This part begins (chapter 6) with an overview of what “Gospels” are, including a discussion of the semantic range of euangelion (“good news,” “gospel”) and its usage among 1st– and 2nd-century Christian authors. Next, Brown chronicles the development of “Gospel” as a literary genre, showing that it has parallels to biographies in the Hebrew Bible and to Greco-Roman biographies, combined with a healthy amount of creativity on the parts of the Gospel authors. Here Brown distinguishes between the actual Jesus (the man Jesus, a religious figure who lived in Palestine in the 1st century CE, of whom we have no contemporary accounts), the historical Jesus (a scholarly construct based on critical analysis of the Gospels) and the Gospel Jesus (the literary figure[s] of Jesus, as portrayed by the authors of the Gospels). Brown cautions that, even though the presentation of a Gospel Jesus is shaped by the Gospel author’s rhetorical goals, the Gospels contain at least some eyewitness testimony of the actual Jesus, and so are more useful for talking about the actual Jesus than are reconstructions of the historical Jesus. Next, this chapter sets forth “three stages of Gospel formation” (107): 1) The ministry of the actual Jesus during the first third of the 1st century; 2) The apostles’ preaching about Jesus (the kerygma) during the second third of the 1st century; 3) The written Gospels, which were composed during the last third of the 1st century. Finally, a decent amount of the chapter is devoted to the Synoptic Problem and the existence of Q.

The discussion of the books of the NT begins with chapter 7, which covers the Gospel of Mark. The chapters that discuss the NT books directly (as opposed to informational chapters, like the above) more or less follow the same outline: an introductory paragraph, followed by a “General Analysis of the Message” (ranging from a few pages in the shorter Epistles to a miniature commentary for the Gospels); then discussions of authorship, composition, the community in which the book was composed/to which it was addressed, and the date of writing; then “Issues and Problems for Reflection” (dealing mostly with interpretive problems and ways to apply the text to the modern world—a section that would be useful as part of a seminary-level introductory course on the NT); and finally a brief bibliography for the book.

Chapters 7, 8, 9, and 11 cover the four canonical Gospels (Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John, respectively). The majority of each chapter is devoted to the “General Analysis of the Message”—which, Brown notes, “almost constitute a minicommentary” (126) on each book. Brown’s conclusions are thoroughly centrist; he places Mark between 68-73 CE, possibly at Rome; Matthew he places around 80-90 CE, probably around Antioch; Luke-Acts at around 85 CE, either in Greece or in Syria; and John to churches in Asia Minor between 80-110 CE. The chapter on John is somewhat expanded compared to the chapters on the other Gospels, owing to Brown’s extensive work on that Gospel; not surprisingly, it is in this chapter that his conclusions differ most from the scholarly norm, though they are still strongly centrist (he argues that the bulk of John was composed somewhere around 80-90 CE by the same person/group that wrote 1 John, with an epilogue added around 100-110 CE by the person/group that wrote 2-3 John).

Chapters 10 and 12-14 deal with Acts and the Johannine Epistles, respectively, showing how they fit with their related books (Luke and John). For Acts, Brown explores whether the book qualifies as “history,” whether by ancient or modern definitions, concluding that it fits suitably within the ancient genre of history. For the Johannine Epistles, Brown reconstructs the community and theological situations in which they were written; 1 John was written after the Gospel of John, when “a division among Johannine Christians had occurred, sparked by different views of Jesus” (383), with one group saying that only belief in Jesus mattered, while another group (the group behind 1 John) said that good deeds were required, in addition to right belief. Second and Third John were also written in the context of schism, though a decade or so after 1 John.

Part III deals with the Pauline corpus, including the deutero-Pauline Epistles. The part begins with three prefatory chapters, covering ancient letter-writing practices (chapter 15; including the typical formal elements of Greco-Roman letters), a brief overview of Paul’s biography and theology (chapter 16), and “An Appreciation of Paul” (chapter 17; designed to help students retain an appreciation of Paul’s life and work even while they study the minutiae of each letter). Next, Brown examines the authentic Pauline Epistles in the order they were written (1 Thess, Gal, Phil, Philmn, 1 Cor, 2 Cor, Rom; chapters 18-24), examining the contexts in which they were written, the situations they address, how they were composed, and where they stand in the development of Paul’s theology. Along the way, he addresses various important topics when they are relevant to the letter at hand (e.g., a discussion of early Christian hymnody in relation to Phil 2:5-11).

The next section (chapters 25-31) deal with the pseudonymous Pauline Epistles. Chapter 25 is a very brief overview of pseudonymity in the ancient world, showing that pseudonymous authorship was fairly common in the ancient world, but acknowledging that it presents problems for interpretation in the NT. In fact, Brown analyzes each of the pseudonymous letters in the NT, including the deutero-Paulines, as if the author named actually wrote the work, since “even if that person did not write the respective work, the claim to his authorization suggests that the emphasis in the writing is related to his image” (706). Chapters 26-28 cover 2 Thessalonians, Colossians, and Ephesians, examining evidence for and against Pauline authorship—and being honest when the evidence is more or less inconclusive, as with Colossians—and providing interpretations both as if Paul wrote the letter and as if it was pseudonymous. Chapters 29-31 cover the Pastorals in the order they were written (Titus, 1 Tim, 2 Tim), discussing the church structure present in the letters, the authorship of the Pastorals, and the implications of pseudonymity on interpreting the letters.

Part IV deals with “The Other New Testament Writings” that have not been covered thus far in the book. He examines the remaining epistles in the order that they were written (Heb, 1 Pet, Jas, Jude, 2 Pet; chapters 32-36), and saves Revelation for last (chapter 37). For Hebrews, Brown discusses the genre and “Thought Milieu” (691) of the book, finding that clear answers are not available for either question. In discussing 1 Peter, Brown gives an overview of the life of the historical Peter—since it is relevant to the author’s perception of the letter—and places the letter in the context of unsystematic but imperially sanctioned persecution of Christians. In treating James, as with 1 Peter, Brown discusses the life of the historical James, then discusses the oft-debated relationship between James and the Pauline Epistles (specifically, because of the relationship between “faith” and “works” in each writer’s thought); Brown also covers the relationship between the books of James and Matthew, and places James between genres, as a combination of Hebrew wisdom literature, Stoic diatribe, and epistle. With Jude, Brown gives the life of the historical Jude and discusses the implications of Jude’s use of non-canonical Scriptures. Interestingly, and slightly problematically, the chapter on Jude is the only chapter on an NT book that does not conclude with discussion topics—Brown remarks, “Jude, however, is a very short work; and today most would not appreciate or find germane its argumentation from Israelite tradition about angels who sinned with women, [etc.] We owe Jude reverence as a book of Sacred Scripture, but its applicability to ordinary life remains a formidable difficulty” (760). Be that as it may, there is much fodder in Jude for reflection on everyday life (such as being modest, not arrogant, in disputes; Jude 9-10). Next, Brown analyzes 2 Peter in terms of the “early Catholic” features that Käsemann saw in the book (769), finding that Käsemann’s analysis is too simplistic. Finally, in discussing Revelation, Brown gives an overview of the genre of apocalyptic, examines the structure and theology of the book, and situates it within Domitian’s persecution of 96 CE.

The book concludes with two appendices. Appendix 1 is a history of the quests for the historical Jesus—a task towards which Brown is highly critical. Appendix 2 is a short catalogue of Jewish and Christian books that are useful for studying the NT; it is functionally a very short version of Craig A. Evans, Ancient Texts for New Testament Studies.

References

Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John I-XII (Anchor Bible 29; New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995).

Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John XIII-XXI (Anchor Bible 29a; New York: Doubleday, 1970).

Craig A. Evans, Ancient Texts for New Testament Studies: A Guide to the Background Literature (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2005).

Howard Clark Kee, review of Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament, JBL 118 (1999): 144-147.

Bruce M. Metzger and Bart D. Ehrman, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption and Restoration (4th ed.;  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005).

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Paul and Antony the Great: Christian Shamans

I’ve become convinced that early Christian mystic practice is, at root, shamanistic. Compare the initiation ritual of Siberian shamans with Paul’s conversion narrative and the story of how Antony the Great became a monk:

The shamanic vocation can be directly conferred on someone by the spirits, or it can be a family inheritance. Yet even when it is inherited, Siberian shamans are still supposed to undergo individual initiation in order to obtain knowledge and acquire supernatural aids. Visited by the spirits, the shaman initially goes through a period of deep psychic depression and illness; these only subside when, having crossed the desert of death, he or she comes back to life and learns to control personal spirits in order to perform ecstatic journeys whose purpose is usually healing through exorcism.

Ioan P. Couliano, Out of This World: Otherworldly Journeys from Gilgamesh to Albert Einstein (Boston: Shambhala, 2001), 40.

The initiation experience of the Siberian shamans above closely parallels the sanctification process for early Christian (monastic saints) — a protracted period of struggle against sin, the flesh, and sometimes demons and/or Satan; followed by a complete mastery of his/her own actions and the ability to work miracles and/or have ecstatic experiences.

For example, the New Testament records that Paul, after his conversion experience, fell deathly ill, was healed miraculously, then lived in seclusion in Arabia for three years, before returning to Jerusalem to become a Christian missionary. Paul implies that his years in Arabia were marked by mystical experiences, and even in his later life he had ecstatic, mystical experiences, both during worship services and at other times, and is reported to have been able to heal the sick and resurrect the dead.

Another example is St. Antony the Great, the first of the desert monks of Egypt. After his conversion experience, he lived as a hermit in the Egyptian desert, where he fought the demons, Satan, and against his own temptations to sin; each of these struggles left him deeply wounded, but God would revive him. Eventually, he conquered all of his spiritual adversaries and gained miraculous abilities, like clairvoyance and miraculous healing.

So, both Paul’s and Anthony’s experiences fit the pattern for initiation into shamanic practice: they underwent a serious mental/physical struggle, followed by a full recovery, which was accompanied by spiritual ability and ecstatic adeptness. Their stories provide evidence that shamanism is not limited solely to mimetic or mythic religions, like those of tribal hunter-gatherer societies, but also is a part of theoretic religions like Christianity, where beliefs are usually separated from ritual and mythos.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Greek Wednesday: The Subjunctive & Optative in early Christian Greek, Μὴ γένοιτο in Paul

Continuing in my current obsession with the optative mood, here are some statistics to support the notion that the optative was on the decline in first-century CE koine Greek, followed by a discussion of the optative in Luke and Paul, and the phrase μὴ γένοιτο in Paul and Epictetus.

The New Testament has 17,543 finite verbs. Of these, 1868 are subjunctives and 68 are optatives. In terms of percentages, 10.6% of the finite verbs in the NT are subjunctive, while only 0.388% are optatives. The Apostolic Fathers (not including the Latin sections of both Ignatius’ letter to the Philippians and the Shepherd of Hermas) has 7842 finite verbs, of which 1111 (14.2%) are subjunctive and 50 (0.638%) are optative. I don’t have access to word counts of the classical Greek corpus, but optatives certainly show up more more frequently than 1% of the time there. Thus, it’s very clear that the optative was on the decline in first-century CE Greek.

Within the NT, two authors — Luke and Paul — use the majority of the optatives. Luke has 29 optatives, while Paul has 24. Luke, owing to his more literary style, uses the optative more or less properly; in other words, his usage of the optative accords with its use in classical Greek. (Though he, idiosyncratically, uses εἴη quite frequently). Here are some examples (English is the NRSV):

Luke 1:38 εἶπεν δὲ Μαριάμ· ἰδοὺ ἡ δούλη κυρίου· γένοιτό μοι κατὰ τὸ ῥῆμά σου. καὶ ἀπῆλθεν ἀπ᾿ αὐτῆς ὁ ἄγγελος.

Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

Luke 6:11 αὐτοὶ δὲ ἐπλήσθησαν ἀνοίας καὶ διελάλουν πρὸς ἀλλήλους τί ἂν ποιήσαιεν τῷ Ἰησοῦ.

But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.

Acts 17:27 ζητεῖν τὸν θεόν, εἰ ἄρα γε ψηλαφήσειαν αὐτὸν καὶ εὕροιεν, καί γε οὐ μακρὰν ἀπὸ ἑνὸς ἑκάστου ἡμῶν ὑπάρχοντα.

so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us.

In Paul, on the other hand, fully half (12) of his optatives are in Romans alone, and 10 of those are the phrase μὴ γένοιτο (“may it never be,” “by no means,” “God forbid”). Here’s a sampling (again, English is NRSV):

Romans 3:3 τί γάρ; εἰ ἠπίστησάν τινες, μὴ ἡ ἀπιστία αὐτῶν τὴν πίστιν τοῦ θεοῦ καταργήσει; 4 μὴ γένοιτο· γινέσθω δὲ ὁ θεὸς ἀληθής, πᾶς δὲ ἄνθρωπος ψεύστης, καθὼς γέγραπται· ὅπως ἂν δικαιωθῇς ἐν τοῖς λόγοις σου καὶ νικήσεις ἐν τῷ κρίνεσθαί σε.

What if some were unfaithful? Will their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Although everyone is a liar, let God be proved true, as it is written, “So that you may be justified in your words, and prevail in your judging.”

Romans 6:15 Τί οὖν; ἁμαρτήσωμεν, ὅτι οὐκ ἐσμὲν ὑπὸ νόμον ἀλλὰ ὑπὸ χάριν; μὴ γένοιτο.

What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!

Romans 11:11 Λέγω οὖν, μὴ ἔπταισαν ἵνα πέσωσιν; μὴ γένοιτο· ἀλλὰ τῷ αὐτῶν παραπτώματι ἡ σωτηρία τοῖς ἔθνεσιν εἰς τὸ παραζηλῶσαι αὐτούς.

So I ask, have they stumbled so as to fall? By no means! But through their stumbling salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous.

In fact, all told, Paul uses the phrase μὴ γένοιτο a whopping 14 times throughout his letters. One other author has a similar high concentration of “μὴ γένοιτο”: Epictetus, and a comparison between him and Paul will be useful.

(Of course, though the two authors use the phrase in similar ways, it is unlikely that either is dependent on the other. Paul couldn’t have read Epictetus, because Epictetus was born in 55 CE, and wasn’t active as a philosopher until near the end of the first century and into the second century, well after Paul had died. However, the similarities between the two are pretty eerie. For instance, Epictetus was a Stoic, and Paul showed sympathies to Stoicism. Epictetus learned philosophy in and originally taught in Rome; the majority of Paul’s μὴ γένοιτο phrases are in his letters to the Romans. Moreover, read these samples from Epictetus’ Discourses and tell me they don’t sound a little bit Pauline in usage (though not necessarily in content).)

1.2.35-36 τί οὖν; ἐπειδὴ ἀφυής εἰμι, ἀποστῶτῆς ἐπιμελείας τούτου ἕνεκα; μὴ γένοιτο. Ἐπίκτητος κρείσσων Σωκράτους οὐκ ἔσται: εἰ δὲ μή, οὐ χείρων, τοῦτό μοι ἱκανόν ἐστιν.

What then, since I am naturally dull, shall I, for this reason, take no pains? I hope not. Epictetus is not superior to Socrates; but if he is not inferior, this is enough for me.

1.8.14-15 τί οὖν; αἴρω τὰς δυνάμεις ταύτας; μὴ γένοιτο: οὐδὲ γὰρ τὴν ὁρατικήν.

What then? Do I take away these faculties which you possess? By no means; for neither do I take away the faculty of seeing.

2.8.1-3 Ὁ θεὸς ὠφέλιμος: ἀλλὰ καὶ τἀγαθὸν ὠφέλιμον. εἰκὸς οὖν, ὅπου ἡ οὐσία τοῦθεοῦ, ἐκεῖ εἶναι καὶ τὴν τοῦ ἀγαθοῦ. τίς οὖν οὐσία θεοῦ; σάρξ; μὴ γένοιτο. ἀγρός; μὴ γένοιτο. φήμη; μὴ γένοιτο. νοῦς, ἐπιστήμη, λόγος ὀρθός. ἐνταῦθα τοίνυν ἁπλῶς ζήτει τὴν οὐσίαν τοῦ ἀγαθοῦ.

God is beneficial. Good is also beneficial. It should seem, then, that where the essence of God is, there too is the essence of good. What then is the essence of God, – flesh? By no means. An estate? By no means. Fame? By no means. Intelligence? Knowledge? Right reason? Certainly. Here, then, without more ado, seek the essence of good.

Okay, so I lapsed into a little bit of a conspiracy theory there. Sorry. However, two similarities really stick out between Epictetus’ and Paul’s uses of the phrase. First, they ask a rhetorical question, which is often introduced by τίς, οὖν, or both. Second, they do not use the phrase with a verbal force (as seen in Classical Greek, e.g. Euripides, Medea 598-599: μή μοι γένοιτο λυπρὸς εὐδαίμων βίος
 / μηδ᾽ ὄλβος ὅστις τὴν ἐμὴν κνίζοι φρένα [“May such a wretched prosperous life never come about for me, / nor wealth of a sort that torments my heart”]), but instead use it simply as a strong means of denial; in other words, they use it as a very strong synonym for the word “no.”

Look, for example, at Romans 3:3-4 and Discourses 2.8.1-3 above. In both cases, μὴ γένοιτο clearly means “by no means!” or “no way!” or “God forbid!” Epictetus counters μὴ γένοιτο with ὀρθός, “certainly.” Thus, it is far more natural for μὴ γένοιτο here to mean “no way!” than for it to mean “may it never be!” Likewise, in Romans 3:3-4, it makes far better sense to read μὴ γένοιτο as “certainly not!” or “God forbid!” Thus, it seems, by the time of late koine Greek in the first and second centuries CE, μὴ γένοιτο had become a set phrase for a strong denial, lacking any verbal content.

So, in sum, the optative was clearly in decline in non-literary Greek by the time of the first and second centuries CE. However, it was preserved in a set phrase of strong denial, μὴ γένοιτο, that served only as a strong synonym for the word “no” but did not actually carry any verbal force.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Admit You Have Wishes

As a New Testament scholar and pastor, I am sometimes asked to lead Bible studies at local churches, including my own. Studies of Paul and women or of the Bible and sexuality are especially popular topics these days, though I have also taught courses on, for example, biblical perspectives on war and violence or the circumstances surrounding the production of particular New Testament books. Whatever I am teaching, however, I usually begin by asking participants what they wish the Bible said about the topic at hand. Do we wish that the Bible would reject war as a political strategy? Or perhaps we believe that the Bible should support defensive if not offensive wars. Do we wish that the Bible would confirm gay marriage, instead of rejecting it as so many Christians insist? Or perhaps our concern has to do with the role of women. Perhaps we wish that Paul had not told women to be silent and learn from their husbands at home, especially since talkative and independent women can be found throughout the Bible just as often as silent, obedient women. Whatever we wish for, I point out, probably can be found somewhere in the Bible, which is why it is so important to admit that we have wishes, whatever they may be. We are not passive recipients of what the Bible says, but active interpreters who make decisions about what we will believe and what we will affirm. Admitting that we have wishes, and that our wishes matter, is therefore the first step to developing an honest and faithful interpretation.

From Jennifer Wright Knust, Unprotected Texts: The Bible’s Surprising Contradictions about Sex and Desire (New York: HarperOne, 2011), 241.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized